As humankind we have been embedded with the desire to compare great people to other great people. Of this I can speak with great confidence as I have participated in many such discussions over the course of my life. Consider the following somewhat, banal debates that you may have found yourself taking part in:
- Best Quarterback of all-time (fill-in your choice - I'd go Montana with Brady getting close and Elway/Manning right there)
- Greatest Golfer of all (Tiger or The Bear - is this really a question :) )
- Best President in history (typically Abe the Honest or George the cherry-tree hacker)
This embedded trait was not lost on the ancients particularly those of the ancient Near East. The corpus of literature is filled with Pharaohs and Mesopotamian kings falling over themselves in attempts of "one-upping" their predecessors and contemporaries. The Hebrew kings of the Old Testament were no strangers to such thinking - Saul defeated the Philistines on occasion, David conquered Philistia, but was not allowed to build the temple, Solomon built the temple and caused Israel to flourish. In each case the next king sought to carve out a particular niche that set them apart from their predecessor. Often times the record dips into the well of hyperbole to show the superiority of an individual - consider the following:
“Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year. And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.” (1 Kings 10:23–27 ESV)Whereas, the kings of the ancient world often employed the technique of hyperbole to show their grandeur - not so with the true King. David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, and Ramses II all had to play by the rules of the hyperbolic game and exaggerate for the sake of describing their true greatness - not so with the King of Kings. Where the kings of history reached beyond their means to explain that which was by all accounts describable - the King of glory must reach beyond our means to explain to us the indescribable.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?” (Hebrews 1:1–5 ESV)